How To Come Out - Ask a Therapist
During Pride Month we reached out to two certified and experienced sex therapists, Casey Tanner and Silva Neves, who specialise in LGBTQ+ focused therapy. They shared their advice and insight on managing what is often seen as one of the biggest hurdles to living openly; coming out. As they emphasised, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to coming out, but rather finding a way or ways that create the safest space for you. This is particularly why we love the term, coined by Karamo Brown from Queer Eye, of Welcoming In. Welcoming In, rather than Coming Out intentionally centres your needs and emphasises that this is about you. With that in mind, if Coming Out is the term you prefer than more power to you for choosing this.
Watch the full video below.
How Can I Create a Safe Space for Myself When Coming Out?
There were multiple ways both Casey and Silva discussed doing this. Firstly, deciding who to tell can be a really great starting point. Casey stressed that you don’t have to be ‘all or nothing about it’ and feel pressured to tell everyone at once. Giving yourself permission to even start with someone you’re not close to but you know to be Queer-affirming can allow you to test the waters before telling those you are a lot closer with.
Silva reiterated the idea of finding someone you feel confident placing your trust in, in regards to Coming Out and telling them first. This way, if you decide to tell others you will have an ally and support to fall back on. It is also important to realise that you do not have to tell everyone you don’t want to, your sexuality and identity are no less valid if you decide not to let some people know.
Simple ways to ascertain if someone is likely to be receptive and safe to come out to is starting a conversation about an external situation and noticing their reaction. For example, bringing up a TV show with LGBTQ+ characters and storylines in it, and asking what they think. Picking up on their responses will help give you some idea of how they might react if you decide to tell them about yourself.
Secondly, deciding how to come out can look different to everyone. While face-to-face is preferred by some, both Casey and Silva offered valid alternatives such as a phone call, a text, email or letter. This way you are better able to set boundaries and also giving the other person or people space and time to process and respond. For many, creating a safe space online is where you can find support and again have better control over your boundaries.
If you do decide to come out face to face, Casey emphasises that you should always prioritise yourself. Give yourself permission to leave or pause the conversation when you need; you do not owe it to others to answer all their questions. As well as this, Silva suggests having the conversation in a public space can give you an exit strategy if needed.
Ultimately, how, where and who you decide to come out to is entirely up to you.
Expectation vs Possible Reality
Silva highlighted that with current conversations about LGBTQ+ rights in the UK, there is often the assumption that it is perfectly safe and easy to come out today when in reality there is a spectrum. It is important to know that you shouldn’t feel pressured to come out just because others think it isn’t a big deal. This can be extremely minimising to your experience, so take the time and space that you need.
If you do come out and someone has not reacted in the way you expected or hoped, Casey advises to “distract first, process later”. Go back to basics and comfort yourself as you might a small child, before then taking the time to process. If you can turn to someone who can support you, whether this is an online space, a therapist, a mentor. There is no rule here of who you can and cannot go to.
You are allowed to revisit the conversation with that person again if you feel safe to do; often people’s initial reactions aren’t fixed. But it is also ok to decide that this person is no longer someone you can have in your life. Give yourself permission to grieve this loss and find people who do celebrate and accept you.
Advice and Guidance
Fundamental to coming out is making sure that this as safe an experience for you as possible. As well as everything Casey and Silva have already mentioned, they also advise thinking about the language you choose. Silva suggests rehearsing in advance and the sentence “I want to talk to you about this because my relationship with you is important” can be a really effective way to begin the conversation.
Also remembering that the way you come out doesn’t have to be the same each time. It can be an in-depth conversation with some people and a quick text of social media status with others. It doesn’t have to be a formal event but could be something you naturally include into a conversation or situation; such as mentioning your partner. You can even ask someone else to come out for you in certain situations.
There is no wrong way or one way to Come Out, and this also applies to labelling. Casey discusses how it is ok if you don’t have a label yet or if you decide labels aren’t for you. There are no rules to coming out, just what works for you.
How Can I Create a Safe Space for Someone else coming out?
If you want to know how to be a supportive ally and help create that safe space for someone else, both Casey and Silva really emphasise the importance of listening to that person. This is something they have likely thought about for a while so will know what they are comfortable discussing and what they are not.
It is ok and natural to have questions and be curious but sometimes it is best to hold the questions for another time, as the person may not be in a place where they want to discuss things further.
When showing your support be sure not to make assumptions about how they want this to look; saying ‘Thank you for telling me’ or ‘Thank you for trusting me’ as well as asking what you can do to support them is a great way to start and follow their lead. Remember that this is about them, so try not to use it as a time to clarify or focus questions you are confused about, but rather finding out how to be the best support for that person specifically.
Coming out is an extremely personal experience, so allow yourself time and space to decide what way is best for you. Watch the full discussion with both Casey Tanner and Silva Neves below.